The Greatest Task: Power

February 13, 2008

Power is often thought of as an object to be obtained and held.  Some people hold power and others are powerless within their situations.  We for instance are perceived as powerless at the hands of the media.  They report based on their research and we accept.  In the teacher-student relationship, the student is powerless to the teacher who controls his grade.  These are the common ideas of power.  I believe them to be wrong.

Every individual has an equal amount of power, so long as he at one time existed.  But it is up to the individual to give power any kinetic strength.  Every person whether conscious or unconscious of his power, is exerting it at this moment, but conscious exertion produces more self interested results. 

Power is not an object to be passed or to be held by only one or a few ideologies or people.  Power is present in everything that exists and it exists only because it is a part of human consciousness.  Power is only as real and tangible as love and hate, as it cannot be labeled by the senses, but that its presence is felt enough to be given a name.  It is in nature, in animals and in human beings.  And through these vehicles is able to be used.  Without a vehicle for expression, power is useless or nonexistent.  In human relationships, those who are “in charge” appear to have more power than the subordinate people, but this is not the case.  Both or all of the people in this relationship have equal amounts of power, but the higher authority has either developed hers through education and experience or shares the popular ideology of the employers who give her the position to exercise her power. 

Even in this case, it may still seem that the subordinate person in the relationship is powerless.  He will have to obey his boss or suffer consequences.  The problem with this statement is that he does not have to do anything.  Just as a trained animal can at any moment chose to bite its owner, the subordinate person can choose to exercise his power and protest.  However, certain ideologies that he adheres to which he may have obtained in education, family, social pressures or the ideology of his own self-interest, may prevent him from protesting.  He may be disciplined, fired, treated poorly or suffer other consequences that he does not wish to face.  This means that he still has the power to act, but that power from other people or groups of people in the form of ideologies influences his choice.   By ideologies, I mean any reality of a human being or what we hold to be true.  There are political ideologies, personal and family ideologies and any process of thinking about the world is an ideology.

It is the same for me in class.  Though I have always wanted to shake things up by saying something crazy and running out of the room or by speaking in a ridiculous accent in class, I will probably never do either, despite the fact that the rigidness of the classroom makes me squirm.  The ideologies of reputation, grades, family and personal responsibility stop me from acting.  But at any time I can choose to ignore all of that and go for it.  That is when I become the most free and when I use my power to the best of my ability. 

Our presidents, our corporate leaders and all other authority figures are not completely free and have no absolute power.  They are tied to ideologies and in addition, at any given moment, any person who passes within their sphere of influence is exerting power over them.  A worker in a factory exerts power over his boss so long as he was ever associated with the company.  When he works, he is making products.  When he takes off or quits, he causes his boss to have to find a replacement.  At every moment, we are the worker to some person, group, institution or ideology.  The only task that we have is developing that power and using it.  But the trick is to gain knowledge from many ideologies regardless of their importance to use, because the education system, our social relationships and the other normalizing aspects of our lives are not enough to know everything about our power.

So power is not an object possessed by a lucky few, nor is it something to be passed around.  It does not operate alone; it is a tool of operation.  It is a tool that we all possess so long as we exist, and we must be conscious of its presence within our own bodies.  We are not ever powerless, and despite the great devices of power exercised against us in certain instances, we are irresponsible to think ourselves victims, though those illegitimate and exploitative ideologies often seen in poor neighborhoods and the workplace are morally reprehensible, to say the least.  Nevertheless, we must take our internal tool of power and build it with knowledge and confidence and in some cases other people.  This is the great task of the human being: to recognize and mold his power.

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Activism at College

February 11, 2008

I am not a social activist.  I would like to be and probably will be one day, but today I am not.  Maybe next week.

The baby boomers always talk about the 60s.  How many protests, sit ins and all round activism was present in the world and on their college campuses.  It’s not like any more.  I’m sure everybody knows that. 

At my university, there are a few movements on campus every year, usually by the same group of people.  But the vast majority of students are hostile towards the activists on campus.  The common argument for the hostility is that any protest or movement for change is a waste of time and these people with their Monday night meeting and sign parties are wasting their energy.  Now don’t think that these people are the deadbeats that are going to work on Wal-Street or become corrupt politicians.  Some of them may follow these roads, but a great majority of them will deal with the problems that the protesters advocate against within the system that needs the change.  Many of the college students I know do not join human rights groups on campus or participate in sit ins, but they have a bigger plan.  They plan to use their education to get a job in whatever industry they believe needs fixing and do it themselves.  To them, protests on campus are silly displays by free spirits who are wasting their time. 

John Mayer wrote a song, “Waiting on the World to Change” and while I like what he says and I enjoy listening to the song, I often find myself hating the message he gives.  He essentially says that the younger generations are passively waiting for the older generations to die out and that when this happens, the world will change.  But what John Mayer and many of my peers fail to realize is that progress in history didn’t wait.  And while protests for Sudan divestment on campuses around the United States may not always accomplish their main goal, they do accomplish two things: 1. progress is making universities aware of student concerns  2. a message to the world that not everybody accepts what they are told.

The main thing with power is not that it comes in many shades, but simply that it exists.  Freedom is only possible when a person decides to ignore its existence.  Therefore, those students who I envy that ignore the power their classmates have that affects their reputation, the power that the government or university has that tells them to be quiet and their own individual power that tells them that there could be consequences to their action; those are students who are more free that most citizens. 

Activism at college is dying, though there are students who will continue to fight for what they believe in regardless of any power source.  And those students who refuse to become part of these student groups may in fact one day help the government, corporate world or social thought to progress from the inside, but who’s to say these activists won’t do the same one day?  The issue with activism is not whether it is right or wrong, it is whether activism should have a definite form.  Whether activism makes people more free.  Whether it would change the ignorance of college students if it became lost.

So here, we are faced with two roads.  College students and older citizens alike.  To take the road less traveled and ignore the power the our fellow human beings hold over us.  To protest, to join human rights groups, to write letter to editor and to the CEOs and to whatever organization the gives us an uneasy feeling that we tend to ignore.  Or we can relish in the comfort of our safe zones, where we prize ourselves on the contentment we feel.  Where we feel no anger at any current situation and allow ourselves to remain safe amidst the power that the ideologies of our nations and fellow human beings hold over our freedom.

The road less traveled or the road trampled?  Unfortunately, I have not yet made my decision.


Winning

January 3, 2008

There are a lot of super competitive people in the world.  People who want, at all costs, to win.  To win sports, board games, video games and any other winnable quests.  But is it really about winning?

A lot of athletes talk about having something to prove.  They and their teams are either underdogs who have to prove that they are better than the critics say they are, or they are the best in their sport and have to prove that they deserve to be at the top.  Either way they win to prove something.  Why do they have to prove something?

I assume it’s the same reason that people in a political argument have to win, the same reason people have to be the top in their academic class and the same reason people want one million hits a day on their blog post.  I can’t say for sure what the reason is, but I think it needs to be tackled.  What are people trying to prove?  What do you have to prove?

I often wonder about the athletes I love, the people I argue against and even myself.  What are we defending?  Why do we need pride?  Our pride helps us win, but in the end it stops us from progress.  Our greatest strength is our greatest weakness.  It always works that way.

In reality, being the best is trivial.  It doesn’t matter.  Wanting to be the best is only a manifestation of human insecurity.  We cannot be satisfied with ourselves and our individual progress, therefore we must find an outside source to rectify this.   We build up one aspect of our being to win and neglect the rest and maybe the most important parts of our humanity.  Never in any generation of written history has there been an extraordinary push for individual betterment.  Sure the few poets and philosophers who words taken in stride may have suggested it, but there was hardly a revolution.  The concentration of humanity has consistently remained rooted in the greatest surface profit of the time.

Money, beauty, sport, argument…nothing internal.

How great would a society be if all of it’s citizens had complete confidence in their individual abilities?  What would be the consequences of that?  I bet is would be much better than what humans have created in the past.